Monday, July 3

The Pyrenees

On Saturday we went on a field trip to the Pyrenees. After leaving in the morning, it took us about an hour and a half heading southwest from Toulouse to get to the mountains. I definitely noticed a change once again in the scenery. To the west, towards the Atlantic, it gets wetter and in the east towards the Mediterranean it gets drier. They actually had normal farms--by normal I mean with crops in the fields, not grapes, and shed-barn type structures. They also had cows, but based on my observations in Switzerland and France, the European cows are the brown kind, not the black and white like in Wisconsin.

So we curved back and forth up a valley. We then did a sharp turn and the elevation started to increase rapidly. The full sized coach bus then began to wind itself up a narrow mountain road. Periodically, there was a sign on the side of the road with the elevation and the distance to the pass. In the beginning it was 11 km of road to take us up nearly 1500 m. The bus driver had it in low gear. He, by the way, told us that he was Canadian and that he didn't speak English very well. I wonder if the French give the French Canadians crap about their accents correspondingly to how it works with English.

The bus chugged up the road. It had a dotted center line, they pretty much all do, yet the lanes were more like golf cart lanes. When we came across someone in the other direction, one of us stopped to let the other get by. The road would go so far in one direction and then it'd turn around and go up the side for a while and then switch back. About half way up, we got stuck behind a tractor pulling a big trailer of hay bales. After what seemed like a long time, we finally got to a wide spot and the tractor pulled over. There was still quite a long way to go up. Looking out the window, there was no close ground. Down a steep incline there would be either a small farm or group of cows hanging on to the grass to avoid falling down, down the valley. I thought "cow tipping could turn rather tragic here".

Finally we made it to 1450 and some meters above sea level. It was a high pass between even taller mountains. There was a road sign warning that the animals roam free. A large flock of brown cows were making quick work of the open grass pasture. I was quite surprised at the change again. Going over the ridge, you're in the next valley. Whereas on the previous side, it was grassy and some leavy trees, this side had many pine trees. I suspect that the thing where a cloud can't make it over the mountain so it drops all its rain on one side was happening. Also, it was cloudy and started to rain on this side of the mountain.

After decending down another narrow road nestled in the forest on the side of the hill, we arrived in the bottom of the valley. We took another road and then we were at the artificial lake where we had a picnic for lunch. As we disembarked the bus, it started to downpour forcing us to take shelter under the porch of a closed restaurant. It might have just been me, but, it seemed like the sandwiches had cheese and a big piece of bacon, which may or may not have been cooked. (You can click on any of the pictures for a bigger image)
Here's Pic du Midi, the mountain to which we were going as seen from where we had our picnic.


After some more driving, we went up another mountain. Parts of the road were covered with concrete structures to keep snow from blocking the roads in winter. Here are two streams. Most unfortunately, it was thunderstorming. We had gotten up most of the way, however the final segment of the nearly 3000 m is a trip in a cable car. They weren't allowing any people to go. I'd rather play it safe because I wouldn't want to be in the cable car if/when it gets hit by lightening. Besides, the mountain top restaurant to which we went in Switzerland, the Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn, is 700 feet taller and there isn't any snow in these mountains in summer.

To do something, we went to the big town down the valley. Pretty much everyone but me went to a spa. I didn't have any other clothes or anything to wear--just a frisby, Wisconsin sweatshirt (for the mountain), and my camera--and I refuse to pay the equivalent of $25 for a speedo which I will never use again--I'm cheap, very cheap. Besides I refuse to wear one for the benefit of everyone involved. That's the main wierd thing about Europe for me, the 'euro trunks'.

So I walked around the town. It took about 25 minutes to walk down pretty much all the streets. I then followed the signs for the 'Centre Commercial". It led to the 'Champion', one of the French chain grocery stores. I turned back around and hung out in the park for a little while. It was a nice little town; it had a couple of fountains, an old cathedral, which I would have liked to seen but I think there was a wedding going on, and several monuments. One was to soldiers from the town that died in WWI and, I think, the Algerian War in the 1950's. I couldn't tell what the other one was for but I suspect probably WWII.

I had to get back by 6 pm to leave and England played Portugal at 5. Walking around, I had kept a look out for a place with a TV. I finally found one in a restaurant/bar type place. It was empty and I just got an ice tea because they don't have lemonade here. Well, they do, but it's something else completely; to them lemonade is soda mixed with fruit juice, any kind of either.

When I entered, I said "bonjour" although I think it was more of a "bonswa" [sic] time of day. I asked her "Parle vouz anglais?" To which she replied a 'no' so I tried "espanol" and she said that she pretty much only spoke French. I then charaded/communicated to her: TV, 'football', and pointing to my barrowed watch 'senk' for 5. It took her a second and then she got it. They were going through the pregame formalities. I sat down. She then asked me where I was staying. I told her Toulouse, to which she seemed surprised. Then I tried to say "Etas-Unis" French for United States. She didn't get it so I tried a 'USA' and then 'America'. She got it. She then pointed out to me when David Beckham came out. I tried to communicate to her that I wanted Anglaiterra (England) to win. To whatever I had said, she agreed to England. Perhaps she wanted them to lose?

I was only able to watch the first half which is 45 minutes long. I missed all the action because it was 0-0 going into half time. As I was walking back to the bus, my biggest fear was that Portugal would win.

After everybody was recollected and on the bus we left. The road to the highway went up and out of the town. On top of the hill, I could see the mountains. It was really neat because looking to the east, I could actually see the northern edge of the mountain range. According to Wikipedia, the Pyreneese are older that the Alps and they were formed when Spain swung around counterclockwise, which squished the land and pushed up mountains.

We got back to Toulouse, found out that England had lost in an overtime penalty kick, and left pretty much right away for the Capitole. France was playing Brazil at 9 and the city had a giant screen tv set up for the people to watch the game in the town square. It was awesome and packed. We went and sat down along with about 10,000+ other Toulousers. You may, probably not, know that Brazil is one of the best teams, and they won it last year. France beat them with a single goal in the second half. Everyone was very surprised and it was incredible to be here in France, with a bunch of French, and see them make it to the semifinals. Everyone then went crazy and the downtown was packed with people walking around.

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